Viruses can stay alive in fresh water for three days by attaching to microplastics, says study

Edited By: Gandharv Walia
London Updated: Jun 27, 2022, 07:00 PM(IST)

Viruses can stay alive in fresh water for three days by attaching to microplastics, says study (representative image). Photograph:( WION Web Team )

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The research, which has been published in the journal ‘Environmental Pollution’, is a part of a £1.85m project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The study said that microplastics-enabled pathogens transfer in the environment

Viruses can remain alive in fresh water for around three days by hitchhiking on plastics, said researchers. The viruses, which cause diarrhoea or stomach upsets, were found to be able to survive in water by attaching with microplastics, the experts said. The viruses like rotavirus remain infectious and pose a health risk. Researchers from University of Stirling made the observations. “We found that viruses can attach to microplastics and that allows them to survive in the water for three days, possibly longer,” said Prof Richard Quilliam, lead researcher of the project, Stirling University, said.   

The standard laboratory methods were used to know whether the viruses found on microplastics in water are infectious. “We weren’t sure how well viruses could survive by ‘hitchhiking’ on plastics in the environment, but they do survive and they do remain infectious,” Quilliam said.  

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The research, which has been published in the journal ‘Environmental Pollution’, is a part of a £1.85m project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The study said that microplastics-enabled pathogens transfer in the environment.  

“Being infectious in the environment for three days, that’s long enough to get from the wastewater treatment works to the public beach,” Quilliam said.   

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“Even if a wastewater treatment plant is doing everything it can to clean sewage waste, the water discharged still has microplastics in it, which are then transported down the river, into the estuary and wind up on the beach,” Quilliam added.   

“Sometimes they wash up on the beach as lentil-sized, brightly coloured pellets called nurdles that children might pick up and put in their mouths. It doesn’t take many virus particles to make you sick,” Quilliam said.   

“Viruses can also bind to natural surfaces in the environment, but plastic pollution lasts a lot longer than those materials,” said Quilliam.

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(With inputs from agencies) 

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